Update - See 12 March update below regarding watch out points
I've got to hand it to Createspace, they're as good as their word. I reported in the last few blogs on my journey to test the Print On Demand (POD) process that they turned around my print orders in a matter of hours from receipt of the order to dispatch, both for the initial order of five proof copies of Digital Life Form and the subsequent order of one copy apiece for Parallel Lives, the Journeymen, Skin and The Last Simple.
The two biggest hurdles we in the UK have to overcome with this POD system are the postage costs and the delivery times, neither of which are within Createspace's control. The price of the books as a unit seems reasonable - sure I would expect that a mainstream book print run of hundreds, if not thousands, of copies would push the unit costs down significantly but thanks to the tendency of the industry to milk every penny of profit out of each book, often to compensate for the books they print that they have misjudged the demand for, they leave the POD books priced competitively.
Now I discovered quite quickly that the postage costs become better the more books you order, so that when you divide the amount of postage across all the books the amount it adds becomes less onerous. Couple that with a decent author discount it means that although it wouldn't be cost effective for UK readers to purchase my books from Amazon.com (unless they were already buying a reasonable number of other books at the same time, thereby getting the postage per book down), I can import at the author rate in relatively small batches (limiting my financial exposure) and sell them direct with a small profit included.
So how about the second hurdle? Well, the five copies of Digital Life Form, ordered, printed and dispatched on February 14th arrived on the 22nd. As I was out I only had a card from the Post Office advising me I had to wait until the following day to pick my parcel up, but that's not really relevant. I think eight days from ordering to arriving at your door in the UK from their South Carolina printing facility is pretty good. Hopefully the four individual proofs I ordered the other day will arrive in the same timeframe so I can confirm the timescales - I'll let you know.
Update 8 March. I ordered the four proofs on the 22nd February and by the 28th February had managed to find their way to a DHL sorting facility in Germany. And that's where they have stayed. I contacted DHL three days ago to ask about an ETA for the parcel but got no reply, so after 48 hours I contacted Createspace, who were swift to reply. Yes, they could see that the parcel had made it to Germany by the 28th February but pointed out that they were still within their target date of 5 April - yes, you read that correctly - and suggested that if I hadn't received the package by the 7th April then I should get back in touch!
You'll be pleased to know that Createspace didn't hang around taking the payment for this delivery from my credit card, though. Just a cautionary piece of advice for anyone in the UK (or anywhere not the US in fact) planning on trying Createspace - unless you're prepared to hold stock, you may find yourself dissapointing customers.
I guess the $64,000 question has to be - what are they like? Well, first impressions are pretty good. The cover is robust, well printed and appears to be well bound. The pages inside the book seem to be of a good quality and the printing is clear. All in all, it looks and feels like a commercial book, which is what we want.
There are some issues, but so far they are limited to me and my upload, not Createspace. If you've been following my journey so far you may have guessed that I realised I'd made some schoolboy errors in my upload - if I didn't spell them out then I think I may have intimated them. That was part of the motivation for writing the hints and tips blog for self publishing on Createspace the other day - I'm sure I'm not the only person who will forget to add page numbers and the book title on each page, so by flagging it up I may save someone else making the same mistake and save them a little time.
My task now is to go through the book with a fine tooth comb - I have a dedicated pad to my side and a wad of coloured sticky tabs to place on the pages so I can identify each and every error, typo, formatting problem I discover - hopefully not too many as I've been through this book on a number of occasions, however you can't beat editing on paper for spotting glitches. As it happens I'm departing off to the Lake District on holiday at the weekend and will be ensconced in Cumbrian pubs sitting beside a roaring fire most nights with a pint of Cumbrian ale and my printed copy of Digital Life Form beside me. It may mean that the blogs will slow down for a week (the Project: Evil stuff is uploaded and ready to post from my smart phone, so they will happen as normal), but it will mean I can get this book edited to within an inch of its digital life.
I'll let you know how the process goes when its complete. it'll also be a good shake down for the book material as well, so I should be able to gauge how robust the product is fairly quickly. The next Createspace report should update on the proof review and first impressions of the other four books.
Update 2 - 12 March. Still waiting for the books to arrive - according to DHL they were processed at Koln on 28 February but I'm unclear if that means they are still there or stuck in the UK system.
However in the interim I've been reading up on the various boards and would like to pass on some disparate wisdom from other Createspace authors. First, there's some debate about the ISBN numbers. Amazon will issue you one free of charge or can sell you one for $10. There's two issues associated with this according to some. First, if you choose the free ISBN it means the book is nominated as published by Createspace, which sends a big warning signal to mainstream booksellers. The alternative, where you pay $10, means you create your own 'company name' which will fool them all apparently. I'm not too convinced a made up name that they hadn't come across before would necessarily convince, but I guess the point is that Createspace is synonymous with vanity publishing. For my part I'm unconcerned - I've been upfront; I don't expect to sell many books through this medium, and I've certainly resisted paying $25 a title for access to a broader set of sales channels.
The other issue with the ISBNs, of any flavour as far as I can tell, is that they are inextricably welded to the book page size. Now the issue here is that if you choose the wrong page size and try to change it, you can't, apparently. I don't know if this is true and if it is, if it relates to proof copies and published copies or just the published versions. I do know I'm in a good position to test the theory if and when my books arrive. Having lived with the proof of Digital Life Form for a couple of weeks I realise that the default 9 x 6 size is probably not ideal for a fiction paperback. It's more suitable for an academic book via the Open University (I have a bookcase of maths books from my degree studies at that size). Once I've edited one of the proofs and made the necessary edits (if required) then I'll reformat the book in a different size and try to upload it. If that works I'll see if I can do the same trick with Digital Life Form - from what I've read, I would need a different ISBN to achieve that but so far it's unproven.
Ultimately it does appear that having separate ISBNs for the same book can be a little distracting but not forbidden. I may only attempt it as an academic exercise but not follow through with the change, but whatever I do, I'll update on this space in due course.
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